The work of artist Maurizio Anzeri came to my attention in this magazine last year, with an article written by Jessica Hemmings. And recently I found that an exhibition of his work is on at Baltic, Gateshead. I am intrigued by uses of stitch, especially when not on cloth, because I wonder what it is that drew the artist to the needle and thread rather than to the pencil, pen, etc.
There is of course the added dimension of both the thread and its effect – in this case the latter being the holes caused by the needle. So is this use of needle and thread rather than pen and line adding the active dimension of piercing and pulling. Piercings on anonymous faces from the past, and is it a drawing out of their individuality in its unknown chaotic form, pulled out to form the imposed order of the stitched pattern?
And do they remind you as they do me of those so fashionable pictures made with nails and string on a dark background – when was that?
To me these works by Anzeri are the dark side of stitching, somehow destructive of human sentiment because they take time, delicacy, precision, to overlay, to obliterate Taking the tradition of pattern stitching, historically used to denote cultural difference, originally used in a positive way: treasured reminders of meaningful family moments, added to the similarly important marker of the photographic portrait – from years before the constant instant snapping of today – these spirographic doodlings may be attractive in an abstracted way, but I find them fundamentally cruel in outlook.
But we humans are a cruel species, and just as there is excessive sentimentality about photographs, so at the other end there is this twisting of view of what they might mean. The artist Julie Cockburn also distorts found photographs, as well as sometimes embroidering on them.
Is this kind of work yet another way in which an artist can say what others are feeling? That far from venerating our ancestors and their aspirations for us, their progeny, we want to impose our own patterns on them retrospectively? Is this form of art chosen because abstraction is not direct or personal enough? The abstract can be taken in whatever way the observer wishes, such as in the work of Alison Schwarz.
This does not even have a title to point the viewer. But the altered photographs link directly with every viewer in a very personal way.
I managed to find a middle ground, using photograph and thread – although with nails this time, not specifically stitch – a use of collage/assemblage by Dayna Thacker. Do we find this more attractive/acceptable? And if we do, is it because we prefer to sugar our pills?
I think that use of traditional materials, domestic skills, and use of previously highly regarded cultural markers can be incredibly powerful semiotic tools in expressing ourselves today.